"Outside a dog a book is man's best friend, inside a dog it is too dark to read!" -Groucho Marx========="The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." -Jane Austen========="I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book."-JK Rowling========"I spend a lot of time reading." -Bill Gates=========“Ahhh. Bed, book, kitten, sandwich. All one needed in life, really.” -Jacqueline Kelly=========

Thursday, November 10, 2011

A librarian's dilemma

The definition of dilemma: a situation requiring a choice between two equally undesirable alternatives.

That is where this librarian is right now, making a choice between two equally undesirable alternatives. The question---whether to put Habibi by Craig Thompson into circulation in my school library. What are the two equally undesirable alternatives, you ask? Let me explain, but first let me tell you about the book.
Sprawling across an epic landscape of deserts, harems, and modern industrial clutter, HABIBI tells the tale of Dodola and Zam, refugee child slaves bound to each other by chance, by circumstance, and by the love that grows between them.

At once contemporary and timeless, HABIBI gives us a love story of astounding resonance: a parable about our relationship to the natural world, the cultural divide between the first and third worlds, the common heritage of Christianity and Islam, and, most potently, the magic of storytelling. -Craig Thompson's Habibi webpage
S.I. Rosenbaum, a reviewer for the Boston Phoenix, said this about Thompson and Habibi:
“Craig Thompson's new graphic novel, Habibi, is a masterpiece. This isn't an opinion. This book is a gorgeous object; to make it, Thompson apparently covered himself in honey and rolled around in a thousand years of Arabic calligraphy and Islamic art, and the result is breathtaking.”

I know. It sounds lovely.  It is lovely.  Craig Thompson is a master at illustrations and his graphic novels are amazing.  This book is no exception. 600+ pages in length with amazing illustrations and a dramatic story line, this seems like the perfect book for a high school library. It would be a perfect book for us EXCEPT for one rather large-ish problem.  SEX.  There is lots of it in the book and when there is sex in a graphic novel, well, er-r-r, the results are graphic.

Last Tuesday the Top Ten Tuesday meme asked the question "What are the titles of books that made you feel uncomfortable?" This book would have made the list.  I was very uncomfortable while reading it.  I couldn't get comfortable with the volume of graphic sex acts in the book.  And I'm pretty sure that parents of my high school students wouldn't be comfortable with it, either. Therein lies the dilemma.  To return a book that has a fantastic storyline and wonderful illustrations by a very talented author/illustrator (bad choice) or keep it even though it really is too graphic for the population (another bad choice.) As a public school librarian I am charged with selecting books for our collection which match the curriculum and the values of the community, but I am also a believer in the anti-censorship aspect of the 1st amendment.

What to do, what to do?  It is a dilemma.  Whatever I choose, it will be a bad choice.

Your thoughts?

PS.  Go to Craig Thompson's webpage and take a look at the art, the reviews, the process of making Habibi.  Of particular interest to me is that none of the example illustrations on his page include sex scenes.  Hmmmmm....


  1. That is tough, I have absolutely no advice. Sorry. Good luck.

  2. I think the solution is to send it back. As a public high school you need to consider your audience. If Habibi is designed for a mature/adult audience it is better placed at a public library where some of the patrons are adults, thus justifying the purchase. You can't buy every book you want for your library because of limited funds. Don't feel guilty. Tough choice, though.

  3. Hoo boy, you can bet that when our copy arrives, it will be going into the Adult Nonfiction part of the collection. But we are a public library. A school library...it's hard to say whether to put it in or not. Somehow I would believe that once parents get wind of it, there will be opposition, no doubt about it. It might be best just to let it go and not put it into the collection for the sake of propriety.

  4. I have lots of novels that describe sex in my library -- but somehow if there's PICTURES, it's a no go. I've had a couple of graphic novels that got by me, and INVARIABLY they get brought to my attention. No one ever complains about the novels without the pictures (yet....knock on wood....)I would have to pass on this one.

  5. I have a fantastic book called Body Drama (with nude photos of female bodies). The whole point of the book is to help girls learn about their bodies, see that we're all shaped differently, etc. It raised talk for about a day and I haven't heard a peep since.

    What you could do if you think there are older students who would appreciate the book for it's real value is catalog it with a "OFFICE" call number and when/if students ask for it you can explain some of the content before they check it out. We've done this with some of our street art books that have some graphic graffiti. Not a great solution, but a good half-way decision.

  6. There's always that thin line between selection and censorship, isn't there? To me this isn't a case of censorship but of selection. Would your students benefit from this book? Would they understand it? If yes, then I would follow Helen's advice with an office item. Give students a fair warning before they check it out. Be sure to have sufficient information about the book or a even your printed collection development policy handy in case there's any ruckus.

    Personally, I think this one would be better suited for adults in a public library or college library.

  7. I would say err on the side of caution and not include it. As teachers, we have a public responsibility that is burdensome but usually boils down to common sense. Also consider the climate of your school. Are parents likely to complain about the book's content or do you have a particularly acceptable clientele? As the anonymous comment pointed out, if students are that interested in the book, they can always find it at a public library. I would play it safe so that you don't come under fire later on.

  8. Thanks for all the advice. I decided to send the book back. It is lovely but not a good fit for the school. I actually showed the book to my husband and daughters and all three agreed that it was just too graphic.

  9. I read the first chapter of this book at my library, and much as the story is beautiful, I doubt it will be able to get into a school library without raising a storm. There are things to learn from the book, but if my school-going days are any indication, kids are going to be distracted by the err.. sex.

  10. Ouch, that's a tough one! Best of luck with that decision!

  11. Thanks for the post and the discussion- glad to hear this is dilemma for several school librarians. I bought the book as I was so excited by the artistry, and our student's insatiable love for graphic fiction. As I read it, it became quite clear that this would bring up comments from parents/ teachers, and also would maybe create a stir amongst students. I have kept it in my office, as I want inform students about the depictions of sex, and also ask them question/think about the representation of the Middle East that Thompson creates.


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